Friday, November 8, 2013

Duke Energy's Time of Use Rate Program

I will never stand by while someone lies and distorts information. While I think Duke Energy is a fine company in general, the misleading communication here is horrible. In the interest of saving people the time to see through Duke Energy's misrepresentations about their new "Pilot Program" with different rates for different times, let me cut to the chase for you.  Is it a good idea?  Absolutely not.

Well, theoretically, it is a fine idea that has been discussed by economists for decades.  The details are a big problem here, though, especially how Duke is presenting the program. I emailed them about this previously, begging them to change the language. Hearing no response, here we go.

After getting an email about the program, that encourages people to use less during peak hours (Say, hot  afternoons during the summer), they say (link)
"A slightly higher rate is in effect during six hours each weekday – noon to 6 p.m. during the cooling season (June- September), and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the heating season (October-May). A much lower rate applies all other hours, including every hour of every weekend and holiday."

Now, that sounds great, but is a lie.  This description of the program DOES NOT make sense with economic theory.  Given that in NC we pay a rate a little over marginal cost to pay for fixed costs (including profit), to make this program effective the higher rate needs to be MUCH higher, and the lower rate slightly lower-- to reflect the high marginal cost of using peak generators. After much clicking I found the rates they are talking about.  The "slightly higher rates" are 42-58% higher, and the "much lower rates" are only 24.9% lower (link). So, while these price differences seem reasonable, their advertising is deceptive, and there is very little reason for people to voluntarily subject themselves to this program. They also tack on some other fees as a part of being in the program, a fixed fee per month and a $1.84 per kW "distribution demand charge" which is not adequately explained.  They also tell you that they estimate that you could save a WHOPPING $30 per year on your electric bill.  Keep in mind that your bill could also skyrocket under this plan.  Raising people's rates almost 60% during the summer afternoons could really cost a lot-- so very carefully consider the risk you are taking for a possible $30 per year savings.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Scam Warning: $3,990 check from "North Atlanta Survey"

I just got a letter in the mail with a fake check, asking me to call 877-319-1166. This is a slight twist on some standard scams- but the details are so new that I felt the need to write a quick alert for people.  This is a slight twist on earlier "Secret Store Evaluator" scams. They claim to want you as a "Trainee Independent Private Evaluator".  The English usage is decent for a scam, but there are quite a few typos.

The letter was a plain white envelope with the return address 4434 Peachtree Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30326.  As far as I can tell, this is the wrong Zip code for this address, and this address at one time was for a law firm. The letter says it is from North Atlanta Survey INC, P.O. Box 5490, Atlanta, GA 30067.

The letter encloses a real looking check for $3,990.  As with all of these scams, they want you to deposit the fake check.  See the check below with the name and address of owner of the  Frank's Deli chain, which makes no sense: Deli Management, Inc., even though the letter says North Atlanta Survey (which doesn't exist, as far as I can tell). In the check I removed a few numbers from the account number (just in case this is a real, but stolen account number), and my name and address, etc.

Then, the instructions say to call 877-319-1166, EXT 1. I called, and a computerized voice does answer "North Atlanta Survey". You are supposed to Spend $50 at Walmart, $50 at Walgreen, and buy $3,000 worth of "Green-Dot Money Pack Reload" (6 transactions of $500 each).  This is where they steal your money. In other Green-Dot related scams, they ask you to tell them the Green-Dot account number, and as soon as you do, they steal the money. If you believe the story they are telling you, of course you would give them the numbers, since it really is their money anyway. Then, 2 weeks later your bank figures out that the check was a fraud, and YOU will be arrested for fraud.  Really- it happened to a student of mine once-- the bank doesn't know or care that you didn't create the fake check!

Here is the first paragraph, so if people are searching the internet for keywords, hopefully they will see this: 

"I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to become one of our Secret Store Evaluators assigned to Wai-Mart, WalGreen and Green-Dot. This is a THREE MONTH probationary assignment that you are required to complete within 24hrs of activating your check. This is a paid Training assignment that takes about 2hrs to complete. You will be paid $430/hr for the training. Your assignment is to be carried out and completed at any Wal-mart, CVS, Wal-Green and Green-Dot Money Pack Reload locations. The objective of the assignment is to evaluate the effectiveness of Green-Dot Money Pack Reload system and to evaluate the level of customer service provided by WalGreen, CVS and Wal-Mart 

your job descriptions would be to secretly go into any Wal-mart, CVS and WalGreen stores to purchase items and evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the customer service level of the particular store. Whatever you buy belongs to you but you must fax the receipts and the completed evaluation form ."

Just think of the inconsistencies: It is a THREE MONTH assignment lasting 24 hours. Who in the world pays $430/hour for training, or anything else? If they want to test to see how Green-Dot works at stores, why do the transactions need to be for $500 each?  Why not $20 each? 

Here are some sites warning of these kind of scams:

Be safe out there guys! NO ONE would ever mail anyone a check for no reason!  This just makes no sense, when you think about it. Never accept money that is then supposed to be sent on to someone else-- it is the classic ebay, employment, sweepstakes, and now secret shopper SCAM!



Friday, June 28, 2013

The Latest Social Security Internet Hoax Letter

Each month we all get forwarded several emails from people, who diligently forward emails saying "FORWARD THIS TO EVERYONE!" These normally are designed to scare people with hoaxes or less-than-truthful political commentary.  Below is one I just received about the US Social Security system, and I decided to take a few minutes to provide some commentary on the dozens of mistakes contained in the email.  Snopes.com covered this, but didn't do a detailed job on it, so, here I go to try to fill in some gaps and do a few calculations, providing references for people wanting to look at the numbers themselves. The original email is in Italics, and my text is non-italicized.
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KEEP PASSING THIS AROUND UNTIL EVERY ONE HAS HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO READ IT... THIS IS SURE SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT!!!! THE ONLY THING WRONG WITH THE GOVERNMENT'S CALCULATION OF AVAILABLE SOCIAL SECURITY IS THEY FORGOT TO FIGURE IN THE PEOPLE WHO DIED BEFORE THEY EVER COLLECTED A SOCIAL SECURITY CHECK!!! WHERE DID THAT MONEY GO?
It is unclear what "available Social Security" means here, or what government calculation this might be referring to. In any case, people who die are factored in to the actuarial calculations.  Where that money "goes" is to other beneficiaries. Social Security was never designed as a retirement investment account, but a social insurance program in reaction to so many old people in poverty in the 1930's. The current correct name is "Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance" program (OASDI, for short). What you are paying is a TAX, not a deposit, though you could properly think about it as paying a non-voluntary insurance premium (like ObamaCare? ). If someone dies, then their survivors get benefits (spouse, children under 18 or 19 depending on details, and disabled children over 18).  Also, many disabled people get OASDI-- around 5% of the US population aged 19-64 right now is on this disability program!(citation). Right now (2013) almost 63 million people are getting OASDI benefits (source), compared with 142 million who are actually working (source). That means that there are only two people with jobs paying for each person getting benefits. THERE is what you should be e-mailing everyone about!

Remember, not only did you and I contribute to Social Security but your employer did, too. It totaled 15% of your income before taxes. If you averaged only $30K over your working life, that's close to $220,500. Read that again.
Here we are making the unreasonable assumption that the average person works for 49 years straight (from 16 to 65). The average person spends a lot of this time in school, unemployed, taking care of children, or disabled, and not working and paying in benefits.

Did you see where the Government paid in one single penny? 
That is just silly- the Government has no money except for tax money from workers (and borrowing, future tax money).

We are talking about the money you and your employer put in a Government bank to insure you and I that we would have a retirement check from the money we put in, not the Government.
This money does not get put into a government bank. The system has always been self-funded-- enacted in 1935, it began paying benefits in 1937 as money was just being raised in taxes to pay these benefits. There has never been a pool of money sitting there that people paid in (until the last few decades, when they purposefully started taking in more than they paid out to prepare for the Baby Boomers' retirement.  This money was invested in government bonds-- more on that in a minute.)

Now they are calling the money we put in an entitlement when we reach the age to take it back. If you calculate the future invested value of $4,500 per year (yours & your employer's contribution) at a simple 5% interest (less than what the Government pays on the money that it borrows), after 49 years of working you'd have $892,919.98.
5% is not less than the government pays on money it borrows-- as we all know, interest rates are very low, and the average rate paid right now on all US debt is 2.5% (source). Using this rate, your hypothetical total would be $423,589.82.  However, this number is meaningless-- if you want to start saving $4500 per year when you are 16 so you can end up with $423K at 65, I encourage it!  But the government is not your bank, or your IRA.  Plus, you have to take into account inflation.  People retiring now who are making $30,000 were not making $30,000  in 1964 when they were 16 years old. US Per capita income was $3,423 back then (source), so you weren't paying in the $4,500 per year you are assuming, especially given that the tax rate was only 3.625% then (source), unlike the 7.65% now (double it for the employer match, of course).  So, you didn't pay in nearly as much as you think.

Let's take someone who did work every year, and made the Per Capita Income in every year from 1964-2013 (from 3,423 to $50,000), 50 years of work, and they and their employer paid in the OASDI rate at the time.  With no interest at all, you'd have paid in $169,317.50 if you worked every year constantly from age 15 through 65, earning exactly the per capita income.  Suppose we did deposit this money in a bank every year, and earned 5% on it, beginning with the $248.17 we saved in 1964, and so on.  We would end up with $397,843.10 at the end of 2013. So, $400,000 is probably an overly generous figure, since most people do not work from age 15 to 65 with no breaks, and earning 5% constantly won't happen for most people. (My spreadsheet numbers are at the bottom of this blog post, so you can look at them to see what is going on, if you wish).

If you took out only 3% per year, you'd receive $26,787.60 per year and it would last better than 30 years (until you're 95 if you retire at age 65) and that's with no interest paid on that final amount on deposit!
Nothing is "on deposit", as mentioned previously. Using the more realistic number of $400,000, 3% would be $12,000 per year.

If you bought an annuity and it paid 4% per year, you'd have a lifetime income of $2,976.40 per month. 
$1,333.33 per month.

Another thing with me.... I have two deceased husbands who died in their 50's, (one was 51 and the other one was 59 before one percent of their social security could be drawn. I worked all my life and am drawing 100% on my own social security). Their S.S. money will never have one cent drawn from what they paid into S.S. all their lives.
If this person has two dead husbands, then she is eligible for survivor benefits as early as age 60.  Click HERE for more information.

THE FOLKS IN WASHINGTON HAVE PULLED OFF A BIGGER PONZI SCHEME THAN BERNIE MADOFF EVER DID. Entitlement my foot, I paid cash for my social security insurance! Just because they borrowed the money for other government spending, doesn't make my benefits some kind of charity or handout!!
My red highlighting here-- see, is it insurance, and not a savings account!  The word "entitlement" simply means a guaranteed benefit by law.  It does not mean "handout" or "charity".

Remember Congressional benefits? --- free healthcare, outrageous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays, three weeks paid vacation, unlimited paid sick days. Now that's welfare, and they have the nerve to call my social security retirement payments entitlements?
I actually take the unpopular opinion that congressmen are underpaid, for someone to quit their job, and keep one house back home and a house (apartment, whatever) in Washington, DC.  They certainly don't get paid enough for ME to consider running, think of the huge sacrifices these people make. Even people without skeletons in their closets sometimes have their lives ruined by lies made up by their campaign opponents.  That doesn't mean that I LIKE politicians or anything, far from it.  But, if you want the best and brightest to run the country, how about offering enough to attract them (like some qualified accountants!)?  What do these "paid holidays" and "paid vacation" mean? It just isn't true. These guys must constantly campaign, network, and deal with constituents.  Just because you aren't on the floor of the House doesn't mean you aren't working-- but even if you aren't-- don't people deserve to go home, possibly 3,000 miles away, to see their families and constituents?

We're "broke" and we can't help our own Seniors, Veterans, Orphans, or Homeless. They call Social Security and Medicare an entitlement even though most of us have been paying for it all our working lives, and now, when it's time for us to collect, the government is running out of money.
The word "entitlement" simple means a guaranteed benefit by law.  It does not mean "handout" or "charity".  In any case, what is the rant about?  The government is running out of money, so... what? They are still paying your benefits, and will continue to do so.

Why did the government borrow from it in the first place? It was supposed to be in a locked box, not part of the general fund.
Well, it isn't part of the general fund. Most of the money is spent on benefits to current retirees-- there is just no other way to do it when a program starts paying money to people when the program starts, without having a pool of money that these people paid in.  Plus, it IS insurance-- remember those disabled people? They are around 25% of the total-- these people might pay in just a couple of years, and get benefits from age 25 through 95.  Extra money, called the "Social Security Surplus" is invested in government bonds and held in the Trust Fund (source), which today has almost $3 Trillion in it. Given the steep increase in people claiming disability, this isn't a whole lot of money, but it is about $50,000 per current beneficiary to put it into perspective.

Sad isn't it.  99% of people won't have the guts to forward this. I'm in the 1% -- I just did. 
99% of people aren't brave enough to try to correct the mistakes.  I just did!

Now, let me say again for those that didn't hear it the first time-- None of this means that I love politicians, trust the government, or think that Social Security doesn't have problems. It is just that nothing in this email relates to any of those problems. The real problem is too few people paying in compared to too many people taking out. SIMPLE to understand. Some people are paying in for under 30 years, then expecting benefit from age 65 to 95, getting out more than triple what they paid in. Let me briefly describe a REAL problem that you probably haven't thought about-- how unfair this system is to Black Men (BM) compared to White Women (WW).

Suppose that a BM and WW worked at the same job, got the same pay, for the same years. Whereas 87% of women make it to age 65, only 64% of black men do.  Doesn't that seem a bit unfair?  How about we suppose that 100 BM and WW made it to 65 and then retired.  Well, after 13 years half of the BM would be dead, but only 27% of the WW would be.  And yet, we pay the same monthly benefit to both people, even though we know that the WW will be paid MUCH MORE in benefits than the BM over their lifetimes (or White Males, for that matter).  At age 85, 25 of these 100 BM would still be alive, compared with 47 of the WW. Shouldn't benefits be paid out more fairly?  I leave it up to you.  (Calculations based on the CDC Life Tables)

See my videos on "Death Probabilities" for more information on these kinds of calculations:
Video 1
Video 2

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Spreadsheet of calculations is below, for your reference.





Year Nominal PCI FICA Rate "Saved" In "Account" at 5%
1964 $3,423 3.625 248.17 248.17
1965 $3,665 3.625 265.71 526.29
1966 $3,972 4.2 333.65 886.25
1967 $4,152 4.4 365.38 1295.94
1968 $4,491 4.4 395.21 1755.94
1969 $4,803 4.8 461.09 2304.83
1970 $4,998 4.8 479.81 2899.88
1971 $5,360 5.2 557.44 3602.31
1972 $5,836 5.2 606.94 4389.37
1973 $6,462 5.85 756.05 5364.90
1974 $6,948 5.85 812.92 6446.06
1975 $7,517 5.85 879.49 7647.85
1976 $8,297 5.85 970.75 9000.99
1977 $9,143 5.85 1069.73 10520.77
1978 $10,225 6.05 1237.23 12284.03
1979 $11,302 6.13 1385.63 14283.86
1980 $12,180 6.13 1493.27 16491.32
1981 $13,526 6.65 1798.96 19114.85
1982 $13,933 6.7 1867.02 21937.61
1983 $15,000 6.7 2010.00 25044.49
1984 $16,539 6.7 2216.23 28512.94
1985 $17,589 7.05 2480.05 32418.64
1986 $18,427 7.15 2635.06 36674.63
1987 $19,394 7.15 2773.34 41281.70
1988 $20,703 7.51 3109.59 46455.38
1989 $22,039 7.51 3310.26 52088.40
1990 $23,038 7.65 3524.81 58217.64
1991 $23,443 7.65 3586.78 64715.30
1992 $24,411 7.65 3734.88 71685.95
1993 $25,327 7.65 3875.03 79145.28
1994 $26,578 7.65 4066.43 87168.97
1995 $27,559 7.65 4216.53 95743.95
1996 $28,772 7.65 4402.12 104933.26
1997 $30,282 7.65 4633.15 114813.07
1998 $31,687 7.65 4848.11 125401.84
1999 $33,332 7.65 5099.80 136771.73
2000 $35,082 7.65 5367.55 148977.86
2001 $35,912 7.65 5494.54 161921.29
2002 $36,819 7.65 5633.31 175650.66
2003 $38,225 7.65 5848.43 190281.62
2004 $40,292 7.65 6164.68 205960.37
2005 $42,516 7.65 6504.95 222763.34
2006 $44,623 7.65 6827.32 240728.82
2007 $46,349 7.65 7091.40 259856.66
2008 $46,760 7.65 7154.28 280003.78
2009 $45,305 7.65 6931.67 300935.63
2010 $46,612 7.65 7131.64 323114.05
2011 $48,112 7.65 7361.14 346630.89
2012 $50,000 7.65 7650.00 371612.43
2013 $50,000 7.65 7650.00 397843.05
Total  169317.464
The last two PCI are 50,000 by assumption-- 2013 isn't over yet,
and I just chose a simple, reasonable number.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Microsoft gives up on some of its Windows 8 Nonsense: Introducing Windows Blue!


Recently a new update to Windows 8 has been leaked online. Dubbed "Windows Blue", it marks the first official recognition that Windows 8 is a screwed up mess, and needs a major overhaul sooner, rather than later.  Blue is a major update of Win8 due out later this year (2013), and will likely be called "Windows 8.1" upon release.

One improvement in the leaked release is that "apps" are not restricted to run only in full-screen — you can "snap" several running apps side-by-side. They have also reportedly included quite a few other ways allow customization in the layout.

Of course, there are many other important problems with Windows 8, and it will take some time to figure out which of those problems are going to be effectively addressed in this new release. There are some other little tweaks here and there, but keep in mind that this is just a pre-release that is not in beta yet, so there are undoubtedly still a lot of changes yet to be made.

This Summer we should get a glimpse of most of the new changes, when most people believe a public preview release will be announced.

Here are a few links to get you started so that you can read up on the latest news:
The Verge 1
The Verge 2 (About the public preview of Blue)
Wall Street Journal (About how Blue is part of a change in strategy die to Win8's sales flop)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Windows 8... What a horrible thing. How to get your desktop and start menu back.



I just built another new computer to be my main home PC (link to my videos on how to build a PC), and decided to go with Windows 8.  I would have gone with Windows 7, but it is now extremely overpriced as Microsoft forces people to go with Windows 8.  Plus, I had read that even though Windows 8 is a nightmare, there are some 3rd party programs that can make it usable.  For a funny (but true) Windows 8 review, see Brian Boyko's Animated Review.  Rather than duplicate his comments, I will add some of my own observations.

Rather than install these apps that make WIN8 easier to use right off the bat, I thought I might as well try to figure out how to use Windows 8 for a little while first.  I consider myself an all around, jack-of-all-trades computer expert.  I am the guy people call when something goes wrong with their printer, networking, computer, or anything.  I can build and repair PCs, have used just about every computer program and platform at one time or another, and can do some light programming.  I taught myself how to program in Basic and how to use DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, and lots of other programs when I was 10-12 years old.  I have figured out every other computer in 30 minutes or less, and figured I could handle Win8. So, I actually did 15 minutes of reading about the Windows 8 interface to prepare beforehand, installed it, and jumped right in.

At first, it wasn't that bad. I had read people say how hard it was to get to the traditional "desktop", but I figured that out pretty easily.  I will call that main, ugly screen the "Metro Screen", for lack of a better term.   To get to something like the old "Desktop", click the Metro icon for "Desktop" on the left hand side (the block with the flowers in it, above).  But, the longer I have worked with Windows 8 (about a week now), the worse it has gotten.  It turns out that the learning curve is steep and downhill.

As long as I can stay on the desktop, I am fine.  But, since they removed the start button... or rather, even worse, the thing they call "Start" takes you to the Metro screen, it is difficult to run programs.  Oh, sorry Microsoft... "Apps". However, for some reason, Win8 thinks it is cute to open some things in some horrible full-screen mode (I guess this is the wonderful thing they call "Metro"?).  In this full screen mode, there are no menus, no way to minimize or adjust the window size,  and NO way to close it.  None.  Once you open one of these "Apps", it is there to stay, apparently.  For example, if you want to watch a video of your kid, you might click on the Metro Icon called "Video".
This takes you to an extremely stupid screen that says "XBOX Video".  I don't have an XBOX, and don't want one.  Why in the world would you call it "XBOX Video?"

Now, if you are lucky enough to actually find your file of your kid you want to play (these are in the 4  tiny unhelpful light gray rectangles along the left side, I think...).  Once you start playing one of the videos, you can't close it or re-size it. You can only pause, or hit a left-arrow, which seems to be Metro's "take me back to the previous place I was" option.  Hit that, and your video keeps playing, you just can't SEE it! But, the noise just keeps on happening.  Your only option seems to be to figure out how to get back to the still-playing video and pause the video, and leave it paused until the end of time.  Actually closing a program appears to be nearly impossible, without using Task Manager.  And, they broke the task manager interface so badly that it is much more difficult to use, as well.  The only way I have figured out to get out of these stupid full screen programs is to hit the Windows key repeatedly, which takes you to the stupid Metro screen, where you can get back to the desktop.  But, apparently every program you open stays open forever.

Another horrible thing in Windows 8 is the scroll bar.  It is light gray and dark gray, with no lines or shading of any kind.  In fact, no buttons have lines or shading, making them very hard to find.  But it used to be clear which part of the scroll bar you need to click on to drag it, but now it is very confusing.  Look at the scroll bar on the right of the picture below.  Should you try to drag the light gray part, or the dark gray part?

(Answer: The Dark Gray Part)   Additionally, the redesigned icons representing different file types are very hard to figure out... I can't tell a jpg from anything else.

The Metro Screen somehow randomly decides which applications should be accessible there, and which should not.  By randomly trying things I figured out that, you can get a list of all of your applications, if you right click in the metro screen, and click on the tiny "All Apps" thingy that appears.  See the red line I drew below to help you find it.

Click this Icon, and the most horribly-designed menu comes up.  After only one week, my list of all programs covers TWO 1920x1080 monitors.  I have only installed perhaps one third of my programs... errr, Apps yet!  This is going to get much worse very fast. Have a look so far...  What a confusing MESS!
What is even better, there seems to be no way to rearrange this mess, as you could do with the old "Start...All Programs " listing.

As others have written, Microsoft has done an extremely incompetent job of stapling a tablet on top of a computer, and it is determined not to allow you to peel off the tablet to actually use the computer underneath.  A tablet is not designed for doing work, but for playing and watching content.  They have made it almost impossible to DO things and CREATE things.  They also disabled many productivity-enhancing features of windows-past, like the task switcher.  They have created a different task switcher that might be better for phones, but we are not all on our phones all day!

I get the philosophy, I really do.  They are trying to catch up with Google's vision of "Many screens, one platform", so that on your phone, tablet, computer, and ... washing machine... you have the same information and the same experience.  But, for those of us that WORK for a living, we don't want to be stuck typing on a PHONE all day, when we are trying to do database management and data analysis!  All they need to do is have one button that switched back and forth between the dumbed-down phone platform and a real computing platform. Please don't hamper us by attaching a tablet-and-chain to our legs, or people who work for a living will be FORCED to switch to Linux.

How to Get Your Desktop and Start Menu Back
Addendum: After giving up on "Straight Win 8" I downloaded "Classic Shell"- it is a true open source, free program at SourceForge: Download Here.  It does a great job of bringing back the Start Menu. However, until the Metro Desktop can be disabled, Win 8 is still annoying.  I have tried to reset the default programs away from all of the default "Apps".  Another good finding is that when you use multiple monitors, the annoying Metro screen only appears on one of theme, leaving you a regular desktop view on the other.  See picture below with two monitors: While you can have the traditional desktop on both monitors, here I show you what it would look like to have Metro on one, and traditional desktop on the other.  On the right monitor, see the little "Start button at the bottom left, courtesy of "Classic Shell".

However, Metro takes over your Primary Screen... which is more annoying.  But, since you can have your Classic Shell start menu at the bottom of BOTH screens, this is a little helpful.  It just might be possible to integrate the annoying Metro desktop into a useful work life if you have say, three monitors.  Two for work, and one for Metro.  I doubt it... but it might be possible.  However, now after over a month, I have found absolutely no use for any of these Metro Apps. There is no excuse for designing a program with the inability to re-size, minimize, or close it.  If I could destroy and remove it all, I would. Make sure to install alternatives, like VLC media player for music and video files, and a good, free alternative for viewing photos (Picasa is OK). Below, see how "Classic Shell" brings back the traditional Start...Programs menu, helpfully separating the "Apps" from the real programs.  You can fully customize these menus, just as you would expect (from Windows before they went Bats@&% crazy).
One final example of rude stupidity on Microsoft's part is the removal of "Safe Mode" from Win8.  While they didn't totally remove it, they did make it impossible to boot into safe mode without first booting into normal mode.  This shows a complete lack of understanding about the purpose of safe mode!  You boot into safe mode when something goes wrong, say a driver conflict that prevents Windows from booting up.  In previous versions, you would hit F8 while booting, and you could choose to boot into safe mode (which doesn't load most drivers) and fix things.  While in some pre-release verisons of WIN8 you could hit Shift-F8 to boot into safe mode, most people say it has been removed, and I have not been able to get it to work. I have yet to figure out what one is supposed to do when Windows fails to boot.  I guess I will start doing daily images of everything... but this is a huge waste of time.